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Our Philosophy

Seminal thoughts from Oby, August 18, 2016

ProPerArt evolved from the Council for the Promotion of Excellence in Arts.  As the name suggests, the primary objective at inception was to promote quality and build expressive arts as an industry.  Since the nineties when this movement was mooted a lot has changed; the political scenario is markedly different, the art scene has evolved as has the related media industry.  A certain level of ‘professionalism’ has emerged in the sector and there are artists ‘living off’ their craft even if the quality of life is not the greatest.  There are at this point various organizations dedicated to awarding art and artists, examples include initiatives like the annual Sanaa Arts Awards.  However, there are things that remain the same since the 1990s or have changed marginally.  Some aspects of the arts/culture scene have morphed and present differently, but are essentially the same.              

Quality of and in: What is today ProPerArt Creations was mooted as a body to celebrate and inculcate a sense of quality and professionalism in art and culture.  At the time of its inception the performing arts industry was not thriving largely because of: lack of professionalism and lack of focus on quality, a repressive totalitarian political environment that stifled creativity and expression of contrary opinion, an economic and social environment that did not appreciate art and culture as a worthwhile industry and creative enterprise as a career and investment avenue.  There was scant respect for intellectual property and legal mechanisms for protecting creative enterprises lacked.  Council for the Promotion of Art was premised on the idea of raising awareness of the economic, social, intellectual and politico-cultural value of quality art and cultural expression.  Quality creative outputs were deemed to be in short supply and the question then, as now was on the definition of quality.  Could quality simply be a factor of aesthetic finesse or was it a factor of relevance?  The admonishing phrase from Chinua Achebe, ‘Art for art’s sake is like deodorized dog-shit’ resonated in some of the discussions, though there were art and creative purists who felt that art and creativity operated above the fray of the mundane everyday socio-cultural-political issues.  The essence of quality is value, and value is a reflection of the extent to which anything enhances the current state of the other.  Discussions around quality must therefore premise on the potential of the creative and artistic products to enhance the quality of life in all its manifestations.  Quality cannot be seen purely in terms of form, but must extend to issues of the impact of the art and cultural presentation in the continuum of human development.            

Recognition and reward: The initiators of ProPerArt were concerned by the lack of recognition and commensurate reward for those who had chosen the art and culture field.  The prevalent obsession with political icons voided the creative and intellectual contribution to national advancement by the custodians of the nation’s heritage.  Indeed, this aspect of nationhood was hardly ever appreciated.  ProPerArt was driven by the desire to recognize, highlight and celebrate creative enterprise, and its creators, in order to create stock value for art and culture.  Barriers to achieving this is evident at every level: the political establishment when they did not repress artistic and creative expression systematically abused and undervalued it.  The state engaged in the exploitation of art and artists (VoK was the worst example) thus institutionalizing the underpayment of talent.  The legal framework did not protect intellectual property and copyright infringement was rife.  Artists were regularly involved as decorations and entertainers during national events and sisal-skirt swishing dancers poised to receive dignitaries at the airport.  Usually even after such ‘use’ they would not be paid the meagre dues they were promised.  The systematic devaluing of creative expression and its purveyors meant that it had no ‘pull value’, there was no attraction to art and culture as a profession or even a hobby.  Bright youth did not venture into the expressive arts and parents would actively discourage or forbid their children from pursuing interest or talent in the creative expression.  The typical image of the creative expressive artist was not worthy of emulation; they lived hard, reckless and relatively short miserable lives.     

Repression: If and when artists became critical of the status quo the response was fast and high handed; harassment, intimidation, arrest, incarceration detention and financial ruination was systematically applied to control free and contrary expression.  It is worthy of historical note that the first ever detainee in Kenya was an artist, Abdilatiff Abdalla who penned a poetic piece questioning the direction the newly independent Kenyan nation was drifting to.  Prior to independence there had been several artistic pieces penned that landed the writers in prison and our post-independent Kenyan state simply retained these legal mechanisms that facilitated harassment of creative beings.  As repression grew overt and covert arm-twisting was used to instill self-censorship, in response artists adopted various self-preservation mechanisms that undermined free expression.  The net effect of the repression was disengagement, or retreat into the realm of surrealism and existentialism.  The proliferation of highly abstract dramatic pieces that characterized Baranabas Kassigwa and Oliver Minishi’s Kenya Schools Drama Festival scripts is evidences these fears.  So is the popularity of South African plays (Woza Albert, The Island, Sizwe Bansi is Dead, Egoli, Asina Mali) during the Moi era.  These were ways of commenting about state repression while keeping safe.  The moot question today is whether in the less overtly repressive political environment the space for contrarian thought has expanded?  The manner in which the political establishment responds or reacts to criticism expressed in a creative or artistic manner might have become less overt, and the artistic and expressive forms have also evolved.  Political activism of the type that saw the ‘m-pigs’ protest on parliament where swine represented the greed of MPs is the new artistic language as is the violent response to them by the state.  So are the Katiba Watch and Bunge la Mwananchi guerilla theater.  The tear-gassing of children protesting the grabbing of their playground by Westen Hotel is the new Kamiriithu style attack.  One is tempted to add the whistle blowing in parliament by the opposition along the same vein.   The techniques of state repression might have morphed but the intent and intensity remains the same.  The enactment of laws governing and gagging the media, the modus operandi of the Censorship Czar, Ezekiel Mutua are indicative of a growing sophistication.  The violence meted out to journalist (some have died in mysterious circumstances) must be seen in the same light.  The struggle for creative and artistic space has never needed more concerted efforts.  The state’s supposed support for arts and culture is deceptive and therefore there is need for artistic/creative subterfuge.                     

Corporate sector compliance: The corporate sector has since independence perpetuated exploitation of art and culture.  Multi-national industries that rely on the arts in entertainment and advertising, and who pay handsomely elsewhere to use creative talent, take advantage of the socio economic regime and use artists for a song.  Whereas artists build brands elsewhere and earn staggering amounts, the same multinationals use creative talents in Kenya with scant penury reward.  However, corporates are not entirely to blame for this because creative industry workers have been unable to determine the economic value of their productions and lack the skill to negotiate better emoluments.  There is scant recognition and appreciation of quality standards and hence an ‘anything goes’ regime prevails.  The lack of standards extends to lack of professionalism.  Kenya has suffered the total inability to establish professional bodies to regulate, standardize, educate, adjudicate and recognize creative output.  Trade unions or professional guilds have not evolved and other than the music copyrights association there is no body that lobbies, fights or represents the collective interests of the artistic/creative practitioner in the face of bare-knuckle capitalistic commercial interests. 

Consumer ignorance: Consumers of Kenyan art and culture are unschooled in aesthetic authenticity and quality; foreign standards are used to gauge artistic excellence. This has encouraged lack of authenticity, and a dearth of innovation from indigenous Kenyan art forms.  Whereas other regions in Africa have seen traditional art forms evolve to attain international acclaim art forms but not so Kenya.  Kenya has no Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ismael Lo, Salif Keita, Youssou N’dour, Angelique Kidjo, Miriam Makeba, Fela Kuti.  Other than Ngugi wa Thiong’o Kenya has no Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Bessie Head, Tewfik el Hakim, Nadine Gordimer or Athol Fugard.  The traditional art forms have been totally eclipsed by ‘international’ creative fare.  There is a chicken and egg situation in this regard because there is little appreciation of intellectual or economic investment in the creative arts leading to low regard for intellectual property rights too.  This has the consequence of high level of piracy and copyright infringement, plagiarism and reluctance to provide commensurate rewards for creative enterprises.  The Kenyan art consumer is not very willing to pay for art and so the creative artist is not able to invest in the development of their art form.    Investment in training creative talent, setting up of creative and artistic infrastructure, establishment of a legal and policy framework to shore up the industry has lagged behind.  Where efforts have been made these have been modelled on external models unrelated and unresponsive to Kenyan realities.  The identification of talent, the molding of the same and provision of marketing support is sadly lacking. 

ProPerArt and Cultural and Artistic Renaissance: The role that ProPerArt can play into the next century in the renaissance of arts and culture industry in Kenya is reflected from the grand vision of the Smithsonian Institute.  “Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world’.  The core values of this institution are: a) Discovery: Explore and bring to light new knowledge and ideas, and better ways of doing business b) Creativity: Instill our work with imagination and innovation c) Excellence: Deliver the highest quality products and services in all endeavors d) Diversity: Capitalize on the richness inherent in differences e) Integrity: Carry out all our work with the greatest responsibility and accountability f) Service: Be of benefit to the public and our stakeholders.   This  is a model that ProPerArt can adopt.  

In pursuit of excellence in quality ProPerArt needs to be driven to establishing high artistic and aesthetic standards that add value to the experience of every individual.  Quality traverses basic aesthetic presentation and goes into the quality of engagement and interaction.  Through capacity building processes ProPerArt can improve the ability of the creative artists in their craft and its science.  At the same time, increase the discretionary experience of the consumer so that they can discern and demand high quality content and form.  They will be therefore be willing to offer commensurate rewards to creative artists and also respect intellectual property.  Related processes involve organizing artists in professional guilds aimed at furthering skills and commercial worth, protection of intellectual and creative output and protection from harassment and exploitation. 

ProPerArt can also facilitate the recognition and brand building of creative artists as is done by the Oscars, Tony’s etc.  This will grow the exchange value of the individual artist and artistic outputs thus opening up wider marketing platforms.  Through engaging with the corporate sector, ProPerArt can secure corporate donations, grants etc. that can be invested in growing artistic space.  The Smithsonian has an annual surplus in the region of US $300 million from the diverse funding streams that support the diverse museums and zoos, research and cultural centers around the globe. 

The Smithsonian like ProPerArt is a Trust with an elaborate governance structure that includes the US Chief Justice and Vice President, three members of the US Senate, three members of the US House of Representatives and nine eminent citizens.  This group constitute the Board of Regents who meet at least four times a year. The day to day management is by a team of professionals in the wide specialist areas that the experts in.  This brings professionalism to the management of the facilities.  The initial grant donation from Smithson has grown almost 2000%, the institutes now make enough money to be self –reliant and make surplus that has been re-invested in the implementation of the Smithsonian development strategy.  The model of the Smithsonian allows for donor/ benefactor support from a few dollars to thousands of dollars.  The hybrid structure of the Smithsonian exhibits a state and  public ‘for profit’ character that is sustainable.                                                                


Who we are and what we do ...

ProPerArt Trust operates as a unique alliance or consortium of professionals drawn from the widest cross section of disciplines and trades. The consortium is a unique intellectual melting pot, blending a wide range of competencies and talents. It is a think-tank forum that promotes cross-fertilisation of ideas, as well as serving as an incubation outlet of visionary dreams and aspirations.

ProperArt Creations | ProperArt Media | ProperArt Open Academy

Contact Us

ProPerArt Trust
P. O. Box 2484-00202,
Nairobi, Kenya

Tel : +254 (0)704 857 110 | (0)733 223 360
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